Note: This is the penultimate regular post for this publication season. We want to extend a special thank you to our staff members Andrea Aquino, Stephen Hutchings and Keith Tripler, and all of our guest our contributors from this season, including Colin Adams, Dave Samuels, and Alexa Gedigian. We also want to thank all of our readers for making us a part of your day, sharing your work, and contributing to The A Cappella Blog’s highest traffic season to date! Be sure to check back for news updates during the off-season. We will return to regular posting in September 2012.
The Best I’ve Seen highlights the very best in collegiate a cappella, as seen in the admittedly biased and limited view of the author. In this special edition, ACB Content Manager Mike Chin reflects upon the best of what he had the chance to see in the 2012 ICCAs. Please note that selections are limited to the 58 ICCA sets that Mike saw in-person this season.
Best Set: In a year full of exceptional performances, this is one of the toughest categories to call. In the end, I have to give it to the act that I thought should have won the ICCA championship, University of Chicago Voices in Your Head. Rarely have groups implemented such innovative sound and visual presentation into a set, all the while singing so impeccably and so engagingly. Moreover, the set told a cohesive story, recalling visual themes over the course of the group’s 12 minutes on stage, and beckoning back to earlier sounds in the closing moments of the set. No, this is apparently not what the judges at Finals were looking for, and that’s fine, but in my mind, no group offered a better ICCA set this year Voices in Your Head.
Honorable Mention: The UCLA ScatterTones, The Florida State University AcaBelles, The University of Southern California SoCal VoCals, The Universtiy of Georgia Accidentals
Best Song Selection: In recent years, a number of pundits have been asking—why aren’t all-female groups as successful as all-male or co-ed groups in competition? I maintain that the biggest reason for the lack of all-female success is that groups don’t pick songs that will make the most of their talents. For years, The Florida State University AcaBelles have defied the stereotypes of all-female a cappella, singing with passion and volume in addition to musical skill. More so than any other year, though, 2012 was the year in which The ‘Belles put all of the pieces together with near-perfect song selection. Their set opener was an offbeat, creative, and utterly distinctive female take on a mashup of “For the Love of Money” and “Gold Digger.” From there, they turned in the highest impact all-female power piece in years with “Dirty Diana.” They followed that up with early ‘90s pop hit, Shakespeare’s Sisters’ “Stay”—a piece that allowed them to pair a real sensitivity and vulnerability only women can pull off with a brief, dramatic rock out section that played perfectly to their abilities as a power group. Take all of these pieces and cap them off with the ultimate all-female empowerment song for 2012, “Shake It Out.” The group ramped up the drama by playing out the set in seamless fashion. Much like Divisi and Noteworthy were the definitive role models for all-female a cappella groups in the early-to-mid-2000s, this set should be required listening for all-female groups picking songs with an eye toward ascending to the top tier of ICCAs in 2013.
Honorable Mention: The University of Georgia Accidentals, The Penn State University Pennharmonics, University of Chicago Voices in Your Head
Best Solo: I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a collegiate solo that better synergizes charisma, intonation, breath control, range and rhythm than that put forth by The USC SoCal VoCals’ Oluwasegun Oluwadele for “Tightrope.” As great as The SoCal VoCals are now, and have been for years, I have to imagine that it was this unreal front man who sealed the deal on bringing the ICCA Championship back to LA. Simply an electric performance from a young man I’m certain we haven’t heard the last of.
Honorable Mention: The Florida State University AcaBelles for “Dirty Diana,” The Johns Hopkins University Octopodes for “Skyscraper,” Yale University Out of the Blue for “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” The UCLA ScatterTones for “No Woman, No Cry,” The University of Georgia Accidentals for “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” The College of St. Rose Girls Next Door for “Turning Tables,” The AcaBelles for “Stay,” University of DelawareVocal Point for “Swimming,” Rutgers University Deep Treble for “Beautiful Child,” Rutgers University Casual Harmony for “Say (All I Need),” Rider Universsity ‘Til Further Notes for “So Close,” Rider University Vocalmotion for “Who You Are”
Best Arrangement: Gone are the days when a near-perfect transcription is enough to garner a group top honors in this category. I’m looking for complexity, creativity, and perhaps most importantly, appropriateness of the arrangement for the group at hand. Though it’s very, very close, no arrangement interested, surprised, or moved me more than what The UCLA ScatterTones did on “No Woman, No Cry.” They transformed reggae to incredibly sensitive ballad, capturing all of the emotional richness of the original piece, while instilling a new purity of sound that reinvented the song, and made it the perfect vehicle to highlight this group’s unique sound.
Honorable Mention: University of Chicago Voices in Your Head for “We Found Love,” University of Chicago Voices in Your Head for “Titanium,” The Florida State University AcaBelles for “For the Love of Money”/“Gold Digger”, The USC SoCal VoCals for “Poison and Wine,” The University of Georgia Accidentals for “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” University of Rochester After Hours for “Mad World,” SUNY Albany Serendipity for “Wonderwall”
Best Vocal Percussion: For the second time, Schafer Gray of The University of Geogia Accidentals earned Outstanding Vocal Percussion honors at the ICCA Finals, and you’ll hear no argument from me. Gray kept the beat pulsing whilst executing some insane choreography on the group’s set opener, “Never Say Never,” used his perc to infuse drama and movement into “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and was more than up to the task of bringing the rhythm on a closer that spotlighted his talents, “Something to Believe In.” Simply stellar stuff.
Honorable Mention: The Johns Hokins University Octopodes, The USC SoCal VoCals, The UCLA ScatterTones, Rutgers University Casual Harmony
Best Visual Presentation: Leading into the 2012 ICCA season, I elected to diverge from ICCA a little in recognizing best “visual presentation” instead of “choreography.” While the two can often be interchangeable, there are plenty of times in which over-choreographing is a group’s undoing and the set that’s truly more appealing to watch is the one for which the group shows greater restraint on its visuals. Moreover, there are times in which staging, transitions and movement that I have trouble quite classifying as choreography end up resulting in the best visual show of the night. Such was the case for the The Florida State University AcaBelles’ set in which brilliant dramatic staging, seamless transitions, and instances of reconfiguration and just dancing rather than choreography per se built sensational moments.
Honorable Mention: University of Chicago Voices In Your Head, The University of Georgia Accidentals, The UCLA Scattertones, The Vanderbilt University Melodores, Syracuse University Groovestand, SUNY Potsdam A Sharp Arrangement, Drexel University 8 to the Bar
Best Mashup: Good mashups fit up melodically or thematically, or tell a good story in general. It’s the upper tier of mashups that accomplish both of these ends, but also serve the extra functionality of saying something unique about a group’s identity. In that realm, no group was more successful than The Penn State Pennharmonics with their set opener combining Muse’s “Uprising” and Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall.” The group somehow managed to weave together dark, intense material from two very different time periods for an opening song thematically about oppression and overcoming it, but that musically played tribute one of today’s more cutting edge mainstream acts, while also giving a nod to their musical forefathers.
Honorable Mention: Rutgers University Deep Treble for “Pricetag”/“Where is the Love,” Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Stockappella for “Someone Like You”/”Secrets”
Best Outfit: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the most memorable, and, in my mind, most successful ICCA sets forge a unique identity for the musicians performing them. As such Florida State University Reverb’s decision to go all black with bow ties communicated something intrinsic to the group identity—that they weren’t necessarily aiming for cutting edge or intimidating, but rather celebrating an old-fashioned, nice-guy, un-cool culture. The look was distinctive and instantly likeable, almost in spite of itself.
Honorable Mention: University of Maryland Faux Paz, The Florida State University AcaBelles, The USC SoCal VoCals
Breakthrough Performance: While every scholastic a cappella group changes with every passing year, rare is the group that can change my mind about them in such a pronounced way as Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Stockapella did this year. While I more or less wrote them off as also-rans in 2011, in 2012 the group attacked the stage with distinctive song selection, a unique sound, beautiful harmonies, and an outstandingly edgy visual presentation that made them truly stand out against stiff competition at their ICCA quarterfinal at Rutgers this February. Though they weren’t recognized by the judges that night, I had placed them in third, and right on the edge of advancing to semifinals. In a year full of great performances, Stockapella may just be the fastest rising stars in the field—if they continue to evolve at this rate, they have every chance to make the leap to Mid-Atlantic semifinal mainstays in the years ahead.
Honorable Mention: Florida State University Reverb, The Johns Hopkins University Octopodes, University of Chicago Voices in Your Head
Best Moment: A part of what elevates a set from good to great is a group’s ability to manufacture moments that will stick with the audience long after the performers leave the stage. The best moments intertwine great vocals and great visuals in organic ways. In this realm, The Johns Hopkins University Octopodes were without peer in 2012 for their sterling climax to “Skyscraper” in which one of the year’s finest soloists receded into the mass of her group only to be elevated on their shoulders, slowly, steadily, and perfectly on her final iterations of the “skyscraper” lyrics (check out 6:20-7:15 in the video below for the full impact of the moment).
Honorable Mention: University of Chicago Voices in Your Head for “Titanium,” The UCLA ScatterTones for “No Woman No Cry,” The Florida State University AcaBelles for “Shake It Out,” Florida State University Reverb for “You and Me,” The Vanderbilt University Melodores for "Sail"